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Top militant killed in Israel strikes on Gaza

The Israeli military says it is attacking targets in the Gaza Strip in response to threats from a Palestinian militant group there.

At least eight Palestinians, including a child and a Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) commander, have been killed, Gaza’s health ministry says.

It follows days of tensions after Israel arrested a senior PIJ member in the occupied West Bank.

The Gaza-based PIJ had threatened to hit back by bombing central Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said Israel would not allow “terrorist organizations to set the agenda”.

“Let anyone who rises up to harm Israel know that we will get to them. Our security forces will act against Islamic Jihad terrorists to remove the threat from the citizens of Israel,” he said.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it was striking sites linked to the PIJ. They include the high-rise Palestine Tower in Gaza City, hit in a loud explosion which left smoke pouring from the building.

Four PIJ militants – including the commander, Tayseer Jabari – and a five-year-old girl have been among those killed since the strikes started, local health officials say.

An Israeli military spokesman said the IDF was “assuming about 15” militants had been killed.

Israel’s interior minister Ayelet Shaked told Channel 12 News: “We don’t know how this will play out… but this could take time… This could be a lengthy round [of conflict] and a hard one”, the Times of Israel reported.

Speaking while on a visit to the Iranian capital, Tehran, PIJ secretary general Ziyad al-Nakhala said “we will respond forcefully to this aggression, and there will be a fight in which our people will win”.

“There are no red lines for this battle… and Tel Aviv will be under the rockets of the resistance.”

On Monday night, Israel arrested Bassem Saadi, reported to be the head of PIJ in the West Bank. He was held in the Jenin area as part of an ongoing series of arrest operations after a wave of attacks by Israeli Arabs and Palestinians that left 17 Israelis and two Ukrainians dead. Two of the attackers came from the Jenin district.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad fighters in Gaza (24/06/22)
PIJ is one of the main militant groups in Gaza (EPA)

After Bassem Saadi’s arrest, Israel heightened security measures for communities near its border with Gaza, warning that PIJ intended to attack civilians and soldiers. Road closures brought towns and villages in southern Israel to a grinding halt.

PIJ, which is backed by Iran, has its headquarters in Damascus, Syria, and is one of the strongest militant groups in Gaza. It has been responsible for many attacks, including rocket-fire and shootings against Israel.

Israel and PIJ fought a five-day conflict in November 2019 after fighting erupted following the killing by Israel of a PIJ commander who Israel said was planning an imminent attack. The violence left 34 Palestinians dead and 111 injured, while 63 Israelis needed medical treatment.

Israel said 25 of the Palestinians killed were militants, including those hit preparing to launch rockets.

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